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Have you ever wondered why we’re nicer to strangers

than our own family?

It makes no sense, right? Yet, it happens all the time.

If you’re paying attention, you see this happen a lot in Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

EMS treating other EMS badly is typical. It extends well beyond petty rivalries between competing EMS or air medical services. The bad behavior touches the folks on our own team. It often includes the ground crews who called us to the accident scene.

Most poor treatment and bad behavior is excused as work related stress. And for certain, EMS is stressful work. Most occupations don’t require you to make life and death decisions, ever. EMS professionals make these decisions routinely.

But if you stop and think about it…

Shouldn’t this make all of us in EMS treat each other better instead of worse?

I mean, what better reminder to be kind, than witnessing the fact that at any moment in time, we may no longer get a second chance? EMS and air medical professionals know better than anyone how quickly and drastically lives can change in a moment of time.

We know it, but we don’t always change our behavior.

We follow our routines without a thought to how we treat our own EMS brothers and sisters.

This article is about correcting this behavior. Or at least getting you to think about your behavior more often. A small step, but an important one. Below are tools you can use to treat EMS ground crews better. Tools to give ground providers the respect they deserve.

This article is written from the perspective of air crews interacting with ground crews, but you can easily apply the same concepts ground-to-ground, or ground-to-air.

A Word About Denial

Tools are only as good as the people who use them. If you never try a tool, you’ll never get the benefit. Sounds obvious, right?

But from experience, I can tell you it’s not obvious to most EMS and air medical agencies.

I spend a fair amount of time consulting with air medical and EMS companies. I can tell you without exception every air medical company believes they treat other EMS agencies and people well. They believe they do it very well. Air medical providers consider it an integral part of their success.

All good. Except most are completely wrong and it’s a big challenge to get them to see their own behavior for what it is.

Let me explain.

The analogy I teach air medical companies is fitness. Everyone agrees if you want to get physically fit, you need to do more than just show up at a gym every day. Showing up at a gym and going through the motions of lifting weights or cardio will not help you.

If you never break a sweat, increase the weight you’re lifting or time spent on a treadmill, your body will never improve.

The same is true of your interactions with other EMS.

Most air medical providers just go through the motions with ground EMS and fire companies. They’re not committed to improving themselves, listening to feedback or developing better relationships. They interact with ground crews because they have to do it, not with any real level of commitment or sincerity.

My best advice is don’t be “that guy.”

When you interact with ground crews, show them the respect they deserve –because you want to respect them, not because you’re going through the motions.

The tools below will get you moving toward real progress with ground providers.

6 Ways Air Crews Can Show Respect for Ground Crews

1.) Communicate Your Expectations

Nobody can read your mind. Until you clearly communicate what you expect to happen at an accident scene, there is no chance of success.

Keep your directions clear and simple. Whenever possible, address other providers by name and ask them to do exactly what you want them to do.

Try to avoid making assumptions about any individual provider or their level of experience. If someone isn’t doing what you want, it’s more than likely a miscommunication, lack of knowledge or lack of confidence.

Pay attention and work through the issues with your ground provider. Debrief after the fact to address specific challenges.

2.) Give Them Tools

Share your best tips, advice and equipment with ground EMS providers. Show them how to improve their own techniques.

This extends well beyond free pizza, calendars and t-shirts.

If your flight program has the means, a highly effective way of building relationship and rapport is via educational events geared toward ground providers.

Remember to do more than go through the motions. How would you feel if a flight crew came to your fire station and delivered a death by power point landing zone briefing? Does that really build relationship? What can you do better?

3.) Build Trust

Build trust with ground EMS providers.


Start with the basics. Trust is created by doing the things you promise to do. If you tell a ground provider you’re going to follow up with them, be sure to do it.

If you give feedback on how to improve a method or process, be sure the rest of your team is on board and doing the procedure correctly. Trust takes a long time to build, and short time to destroy.

4.) Collaborate

One of the many benefits to truly investing yourself into your ground providers’ success, is the benefit of collaboration.

Once you stop going through the motions and really commit yourself to improving your relationship with ground providers, you’ll be amazed how much you can learn from them.

Air medical considers itself the cream de le creme of EMS. And I would say for the most part this is a widely-held view. But don’t kid yourself, there is plenty you can learn from ground providers.

5.) Give Feedback

Feedback is critical to improving operations and relationships.

Nothing gets better on its own. What matters most in regard to feedback is delivery. How you say it really matters more than what you say.

Feedback is a balancing act. Your delivery needs to be “kum-bah-yah” enough to capture and keep your audience’s attention, but simultaneously direct enough to make a point worth remembering.

Like anything, feedback gets easier and better with practice.

6.) Be Kind

There’s a saying in EMS about EMS eating its own young. Sadly, there’s some truth to it.

Remember that how you treat people (including your own) makes a difference.

People remember and they’re generally not as forgiving as they self-describe.

Your best course of action is always one that includes kindness. Do your best to ditch political correctness and just do the right thing for its own merit.

EMS providers are smart. They’ll know right away whether you actually care about them or if you’re just going through the motions. They’ll also know whether your kindness is genuine or not.

What To Do Now

So what’s the next step?

How do you put these tools to use in your air medical program?

My advice is one at a time. Remember that real relationships begin with trust. Start with a simple survey. Find out what ground providers believe is the most beneficial training to them.

Initially, make your training about them, not you. Over time incorporate the things you know need included to keep your own operations safe.

EMS and air medical are some of the best jobs on the planet. But it’s past time to start treating each other with the respect we all deserve.

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Troy Shaffer
Troy Shaffer

About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

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